Ah, Bolivia. One of the cheapest countries in South America, just well-known enough for cocaine and ill-known for its better qualities to make your friends and your mum question your travel choices. However, as it is conveniently located en route from Peru to Chile, almost every backpacker in South America has at least dabbled into the country, even if it’s just a few nights of crazy partying in La Paz and some perspective photos from Salar de Uyuni.
I originally planned to spend about ten days in the country – you know, tick off all the big things, before moving onto Peru. But Bolivia captured me. It’s a surprising country with some of the most beautiful scenery I have encountered on my travels and stark contrasts between the cultural and the wild, the heat and the cold, and the jungle and the mountains. In 27 days my route took me from +30 to -10 and from 410 m to 5,400 m, and all I can say is that Bolivia far exceeded all my expectations.
Bolivia is also the dream destination of any adventure traveller that craves for that special kind of rush. Just being in the country is exciting; in cities, traffic rules have been replaced with the law of the jungle, and the highways between cities are so ill-kept and narrow that you have to keep your eyes closed and pray you’re not going to fall off the cliff. Combine this with a foreign language (knowing some Spanish is a must) and the rumour that everyone gets sick in Bolivia, one way or another, and you’ve got yourself ingredients for a proper adventure.
Of course on top of the excitement of surviving the amazing Bolivia, there are also some actual activities you can do to fully enjoy your time in the country and to cause your mum a heart attack.
Hiking in the Amboro National Park
Extinct volcanoes, lush rainforest and toucans dining on exotic fruit characterize one the of the most beautiful national parks in Bolivia. The park is also home to cool animals like ocelots and sloths. Sloths, I tell you!
While it is possible to visit on a day trip from Santa Cruz, it’s better to stay in the area for a few days and enjoy the surrounding nature from the nearby town of Samaipata (south side) or Buena Vista (north side which gets a lot less tourism). Tours run significantly cheaper from there – I’m talking about agencies in Santa Cruz charging 100 DOLLARS instead of bolivianos. You could also amp up the adventure and volunteer in the area! I was lucky enough to meet a German guy who gave me a number of a 50-something coffee farmer living in the jungle, and I spent four memorable days sleeping in a tent under an amazing night sky, picking coffee and hiking the park in the afternoons.
Touring mines in Potosí
Going on a tour doesn’t sound like an adventure to you? Well, obviously you’ve never been 4,400 m above ground underground. The mining tours in Potosí take you deep into the heart of the mountains where men chew coca leaves while they pick, dig and blast the stone in claustrophobic, musty mining halls. The experience is not fun, but it’s certainly interesting. I wrote in length about my experience in the mines earlier this year – if you missed it, read it here.
Horse-back riding in Tupiza
Every time I think of Tupiza, an unrecognizable voice in the back of my mind screams: yee-haw! This small cowboy town is popular for its Wild West-esque landscapes that you can explore on horseback. I bang my head against the wall every time I think how I didn’t have time to go there, but it’s definitely added on my next-time list.
4×4-ing on Salar de Uyuni
Tours running to Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding national parks are probably the most famous sights of Bolivia and the most ‘grammable locations you’ll ever see. (Just check my photo post – I could keep on posting pictures from there forever and ever.) A jeep takes you through outlandish scenery, from the plain whites of the vast salt flats to incredibly pigmented lagoons, geysers and cactus islands. Make sure to pick a company that takes you to the hot springs at night: few things in life can be better than getting red-wine tipsy in a natural hot tub under the most incredible stars, all the while the outside temperature’s reaching as low as -15 degrees.
La Paz and all of the adventures
If Bolivia is the country for the adventurous, then La Paz is its well deserved capital (although it’s not the country’s actual capital – that’s Sucre). The city and its surroundings offer fantastic opportunities to get your heart racing – let alone the fact that at the altitude of 3,600 meters and surrounded by Bolivian drivers who consider traffic lights more like Christmas lights, just strolling around La Paz is an adventure.
Abseil in the heart of the city
Did you always want to jump out of a building dressed up as Spiderman, Duff-Man or a hot dog? While that might sound like an oddly specific dream, as soon as I heard about the opportunity, I knew I needed it in my life. I descended seventeen floors – 50 meters – from an office building (and bumped my butt as I stumbled getting into position – a great thing to do a day before taking on the Death Road), first rappelling face-first, then free-falling for the last six floors. If you walked past and thought I was being murdered, fear not, I was only screaming because I was having so much fun.
Bike down the Death Road
Death Road, alongside Salar de Uyuni, is possibly the most famous attraction in Bolivia. While any of the pothole-filled, winding, narrow Bolivian roads could earn the same nickname, the actual Death Road has been dubbed the most dangerous road in the world. Nowadays a new stretch of road – still narrow and precariously running alongside steep cliffs – serves cars, while the old road has been made into a mountain-biking track for backpackers. Make sure to pick a good company!
Oh, and if the thrill of mountain biking isn’t enough? You can also zipline on the Death Road, either en route or at the end of it.
Climb to 6,000 m at Huayna Potosi
You know that snow-capped mountain that rises behind the city in every shot of La Paz? That’s Huayna Potosi, and if you’re ready for the challenge of a lifetime, you can summit it. A three-day tour takes you to the (literally) breathtaking altitude of 6,088 m through snow and steep trails. Not everyone makes it to the top but forced by the altitude have to turn back. While this hike was way too challenging for me (and my ever-aching gums and never-ending hangover), I met a few people who made it to the summit and said it was incredibly hard but definitely rewarding.
So there you have it – the top 7 adventures in Bolivia! Have you ever been to Bolivia or would you like to go?